Commercialization: February 2017 Archives

If you think NASA is frustrated with SpaceX, you're probably right, Ars Technica

"A more blunt assessment was offered by Mary Lynne Dittmar, who is familiar with the thinking of NASA's human spaceflight program managers. "I find it extraordinary that these sorts of announcements are being made when SpaceX has yet to get crew from the ground to low-Earth orbit," she told The New York Times. Dittmar serves as executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, the organization formed by the principal contractors behind NASA's SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. These are the old-guard aerospace firms, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, whose government contracts are threatened by SpaceX. Orion, in particular, appears to be particularly vulnerable if SpaceX can show that Dragon is capable of performing the same kind of deep space missions and high velocity returns from the Moon. With his latest proposal, Elon Musk is playing a dangerous, but potentially winning, game with his lower-cost alternatives to NASA's existing programs. He recognizes that NASA has nurtured his company, and on Monday night, he remained publicly appreciative of the space agency. However by talking about Mars and now the Moon, he not only indicates that his company isn't entirely focused on its most important contract - commercial crew- but also is making a play for NASA's future deep space exploration plans."

Keith's note: FYI The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration is not an "organization". It is not incorporated anywhere. Dittmar is paid with funds that come directly from these aerospace companies. It is hypocritical in the extreme for her to criticize SpaceX for having not done things when in fact SLS has never flown and a stripped-down Orion test article flew just once on a rocket that it will never fly on again.

Meanwhile, Dragons launched on Falcon 9 rockets have made multiple visits to ISS and Falcon Heavy, composed of three of those Falcon 9's, has a significant flight record and is slated to launch this year - years ahead of SLS. SLS will fly only once every several years until the middle of the next decade - and only once or twice a year after that. Meanwhile Falcon 9s will soon be flying monthly. NASA studies looking at moving a crew onto EM-1 will soon show just how expensive and inflexible SLS/Orion actually is while the Falcon/Dragon product line continues to expand its capability without the ever-increasing costs that plague SLS/Orion.

No one is going to get (back) to the Moon fueled with alternative facts and snake oil.

SpaceX To Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft Beyond The Moon Next Year, SpaceX

"We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results."

NASA Statement About SpaceX Private Moon Venture Announcement, NASA

"We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station. "For more than a decade, NASA has invested in private industry to develop capabilities for the American people and seed commercial innovation to advance humanity's future in space. "NASA is changing the way it does business through its commercial partnerships to help build a strong American space economy and free the agency to focus on developing the next-generation rocket, spacecraft and systems to go beyond the moon and sustain deep space exploration."

Keith's note: It is rather strange that NASA would issue a press release about this private commercial venture since this mission does not involve NASA in any way - other than using the launch pad that they rent from NASA and a self-purchased version of the spacecraft they let NASA use. This strikes me as a "well, we need to say something - don't we?" sort of press release from NASA. I guess NASA wants to remind people that they still have big rockets - even if their version of a lunar mission with 2 people will cost many times what SpaceX will charge, will take years longer to accomplish (if the White House says so), and will likely not be repeated i.e. a one-off stunt. Oh yes: notice the the #JourneyToMars thing is no longer automatically put into every NASA press release.

#BackToTheMoon anyone?

Fact Checking ULA's Tweets

SpaceX launched the CRS-10 mission on time this morning at 9:39 am ET from historic LC39A. The Dragon is in orbit and heading toward the ISS while the Falcon 9's first stage made yet another pinpoint anding back at its landing site in Florida.

This morning's attempted launch of Falcon 9 was halted moments before launch. According to a statement from SpaceX "Standing down to take a closer look at an engine actuator on the second stage. 9:38am ET tomorrow is our next earliest launch opportunity."

Shotwell to GAO: "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019", SpacePolicyOnline

"SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell reacted to GAO's report yesterday that commercial crew flights may slip from 2018 to 2019 by expressing utmost confidence in her company's schedule. At a Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press conference today in advance of SpaceX's commercial cargo launch tomorrow, she said the company's response to GAO is "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019."

NASA Commercial Crew Program: Schedule Pressure Increases as Contractors Delay Key Events

"Both of the Commercial Crew Program's contractors have made progress developing their crew transportation systems, but both also have aggressive development schedules that are increasingly under pressure. The two contractors - Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies, Corp. (SpaceX) - are developing transportation systems that must meet the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) standards for human spaceflight - a process called certification. Both Boeing and SpaceX have determined that they will not be able to meet their original 2017 certification dates and both expect certification to be delayed until 2018. The schedule pressures are amplified by NASA's need to provide a viable crew transportation option to the International Space Station (ISS) before its current contract with Russia's space agency runs out in 2019. If NASA needs to purchase additional seats from Russia, the contracting process typically takes 3 years. Without a viable contingency option for ensuring uninterrupted access to the ISS in the event of further Commercial Crew delays, NASA risks not being able to maximize the return on its multibillion dollar investment in the space station."

Leading Commercial Space Group Embraces NASA's Biggest Rocket, Wall Street Journal

"Before his speech outlining the revised stance on the Space Launch System, Mr. Stern said his primary goal is "taking this off the table" as a divisive issue while White House aides formulate new NASA priorities. Looking ahead, he said, "there is plenty of market share to go around" to support a wide range of commercial and government launch systems."

Here's why a commercial space group endorsed NASA's SLS rocket, Ars Technica

"Theoretically, then, the United States could have three heavy lift rockets at its disposal in 2020. If the reusable Falcon Heavy costs $200 million per flight, and the reusable New Glenn costs $200 million, while an expendable SLS rocket costs $1.5 billion, the agency - and by extension Congress and the White House - will have an easy choice to make. One could argue at that time that NASA should never have spent in excess of $10 billion developing the SLS. But the bottom line is that, six years ago, Congress did not believe in the capacity of SpaceX to build a heavy lift rocket, and Blue Origin's intentions were not known at that time. So Congress bet on NASA and its traditional contractor Boeing, and the agency kept its large base of employees intact."

NASA's future deep space rocket gets critical endorsement from commercial space group, The Verge

"Alan Stern, the chairman of the board of directors for the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), publicly announced the organization's support for the rocket at a conference in DC. ... However, Stern says that the extra capability of SLS will enable missions and partnerships with the private sector that cannot be achieved on commercial heavy-lift vehicles that are currently in development. Because of this, he wanted to get this perception "off the table" that the Commercial Spaceflight Federation is strongly against the vehicle when the organization is actually in favor of it. Stern sees the potential of the SLS being used to put something like a commercial lunar outpost on the surface of the Moon (that is if NASA sets its sights on returning to the Moon again)."

Keith's note: Nonsense. This is not what I am hearing from CSF member companies. A number of them are not confortable with this decision and feel that they were pushed into it. SLS is a government-funded, congressionally-mandated rocket with no chance of ever recouping the billions spent to develop it. It can never compete in a true commercial sense unless the government decides to fix prices to make it fit. Saying that the private sector is not interested in developing heavy lift launch systems is utterly inaccurate and flies in the face of plans announced by CSF members SpaceX and Blue Origin. Stern may think he has "taken the issue off of the table" but it will jump back onto on the table in Congress as soon as the hearings start.

Trump advisers' space plan: To moon, Mars and beyond, Politco

"Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another commercial space evangelist with close ties to Trump, is also pushing the White House to embark on a major effort to privatize U.S. space efforts. "A good part of the Trump administration would like a lot more aggressive, risk-taking, competitive entrepreneurial approach to space," Gingrich said in an interview. "A smaller but still powerful faction represents Boeing and the expensive old contractors who have soaked up money with minimum results.

"It is a big fight," said former Republican Rep. Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, who drafted the Trump campaign's space policy and remains involved in the deliberations. "There are billions of dollars at stake. It has come to a head now when it has become clear to the space community that the real innovative work is being done outside of NASA."

- Commercial Spaceflight Federation Sells Out and Endorses SLS (Update), earlier post
- Trump Transition Team Wants Old Space Vs New Space Smackdown, earlier post
- Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public-Private-Partnerships, Charles Miller et al, Research Gate

More Money, More Problems for the Commercial Space Launch Biz, Wired

"But the two companies have used different strategies to keep clients. ULA, a collaboration between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has a flawless launch record. They've never lost a rocket, but safety comes at a cost. According to ULA's RocketBuilder tool, strapping your satellite to one of its Delta V [note: should say Atlas V] rockets will cost you a minimum of $109 million. SpaceX advertises the same service starting at $60 million, and that'll come way down once Elon Musk starts selling launches on used first stage boosters. "SpaceX is like a jackrabbit, and ULA is a buffalo that realizes it needs to be a jackrabbit," says Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee who runs the blog NASA Watch. SpaceX cuts costs by building all its own stuff, innovating quickly, and being able to shuttle payloads right out of the gate."

As tweeted by @NASAWatch from the FAA Commercial Space Transportation conference in Washington, DC today:

- Bridenstine: talking about Gene Cernan and his dream of sending Americans back to the Moon
- Bridenstine is presenting a laundry list of things China is doing/planning in space that America no longer does.
- Bridenstine: when we started paying Russia for Soyuz seats cost was $21m. Now it is $80m. "We are being gouged"
- Bridenstine: need to strike balance between what govt operates and what it procures
- Bridenstine: space situational awareness should be done by civilian entity no DOD
- Bridenstine wants to see govt models for for procurement augmented by commercial solutions
- Bridenstine: govt needs to plan for commercial systems in architectures
- Bridenstine: value of commercial solutions in space because prices lower due to competition
- Bridenstine: talks about commercial paths to cis-lunar space and surface of the Moon
- Bridenstine: need to update regulatory environment for space industry. FAA AST must be adequately funded.
- Bridenstine: FAA office commercial space has battles within FAA. Reorganization needed. Looking for Trump to elevate office
- Bridnestine: space is both an advantage and an Achilles heel

Pima County supervisors vote to appeal World View ruling,

"The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday morning to appeal a judge's ruling that said the county broke the law in its $15 million deal with the space balloon company World View. Supervisors Ally Miller and Steve Christy voted against appealing the decision."

Keith's note: According to a statement provided to NASAWatch by World View: "Those of us at World View remain focused on growing our company. We're excited about our accomplishments and the growing market interest in our technology. World View is a world leader in stratospheric exploration and focused on opening a new stratospheric economy above Earth. Our broad-based business model encompasses both commercial and government markets. Our un-crewed Stratollite vehicle is now widely referred to as a revolutionary platform for high-altitude flight, scientific progress, and commercial access to space, and our space tourism platform will open a new market in the stratosphere and change human perspective for the better along the way. Regarding the ongoing litigation between the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the Goldwater Institute, it's important to note that World View is not a listed party in the lawsuit. Our commitment is to continue to work closely with Pima County, the City of Tucson and the State of Arizona to fully realize the vision of a thriving spaceport and aerospace corridor in Southern Arizona."

Potential Set Back For World View?, earlier post

NanoRacks and Boeing Building First Commercial Airlock on ISS, NanoRacks

"NanoRacks, LLC will partner with Boeing on the building and installation of the first commercial airlock module, which will attach to the U.S. segment on the International Space Station (ISS). In May 2016, NanoRacks and NASA signed a Space Act Agreement in order to install a private airlock module onboard the International Space Station - the first in station history. The NanoRacks Airlock Module will be both a permanent commercial uncrewed module onboard International Space Station, and also a module capable of being removed from the space station and used on a future commercial platform."

Judge voids Arizona county's development deal for World View's strato-balloon base, Geekwire

"A judge in Arizona has struck down Pima County's $15 million development deal with World View Enterprises for a stratospheric balloon launch facility near Tucson. Thursday's ruling by Pima County Superior Court Judge Catherine Woods dealt a setback to World View's plans to send tourists and payloads to heights above 100,000 feet."

Judge Voids World View Contract With Pima County, Goldwater Institute

"According to Judge Catherine Woods, the County was required to have the building appraised, hold a public auction, and set the lease rate no lower than 90% of the appraised value. The County ignored those requirements; therefore, the lease with World View will be cancelled. The Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit against the County on behalf of Pima County taxpayers."

Ron Garan's Next Adventure Will Be At The Edge of Space, SpaceRef

"To be certain, the view will be spectacular for everyone aboard. But there is much more to the potential of the World View balloon than just flying human passengers to look out the window. While the specifics are still being worked out, a range of payload opportunities are under consideration."

Keith's note: World View provided the following statement to NASAWatch: "The recent court ruling does not affect World View's current business operations. We remain focused on building our company and are excited about our recent R&D accomplishments and the increased market interest in our uncrewed Stratollite fight platform. While World View was not a listed party in the lawsuit between the Goldwater Institute and Pima County Board of Supervisors, we are committed to working closely with Pima County, the City of Tucson and the State of Arizona to fully realize the vision of a thriving spaceport and aerospace corridor in Southern Arizona."

United Launch Alliance is cutting jobs again, Denver Business Journal

"United Launch Alliance is again cutting jobs as it seeks to become more price-competitive with Elon Musk's SpaceX and other rocket companies. The Centennial-based rocketmaker, the largest space launch contractor to the federal government, is seeking voluntary departures to trim an unspecified number of positions. ULA said it isn't specifying the number because it considers that competitively sensitive information. The company shed 350 jobs last year through a combination of voluntary buyouts and layoffs and said last summer more cuts would be coming this year."

What Elon Musk stands to gain and lose with Trump, USA Today

"Musk has been blunt about wanting to send humans to Mars, joking that he'd even like to die there, "just not on impact." But getting there is going to require a lot of capital. SpaceX is still a small player when it comes to securing lucrative government contracts from NASA and the Department of Defense, the majority of which still get handed to longtime commercial partners such as ULA, says former NASA administrator Lori Garver."

Congressional Investigators Warn of SpaceX Rocket Defects, Wall Street Journal

"The Government Accountability Office's preliminary findings reveal a pattern of problems with turbine blades that pump fuel into rocket engines, these officials said. The final GAO report, scheduled to be released in coming weeks, is slated to be the first public identification of one of the most serious defects affecting Falcon 9 rockets. The crack-prone parts are considered a potentially major threat to rocket safety, the industry officials said, and may require redesign of what are commonly called the Falcon 9's turbopumps. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they said, has warned SpaceX that such cracks pose an unacceptable risk for manned flights. A SpaceX spokesman didn't have any comment." ... "The final GAO report also will to delve into unrelated issues that threaten to delay initial launches of manned capsules by SpaceX and rival Boeing Co. Echoing conclusions of other studies by outside experts, GAO investigators have determined that both companies are likely to miss a 2018 deadline to start regular missions ferrying astronauts to the international space station."

Firm Commercial Crew Flight Dates Remain Elusive, earlier post



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